The interview was transcribed by students of Epoka University
Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world. This interview was done in collaboration with Epoka University.
In this interview, we meet Edlira Stefa the owner of Sogni D’oro, in Tirana, Albania. Like many businesses, it faced the difficulties of the quarantine due to COVID-19 pandemic. Edlira shared that the most challenging thing was not being to talk to the clients and show the products live. They had to do it through photos and video. But they quickly adapted and improved their social media presence. That helped them to successfully survive the quarantine without losses.
My name is Ledia Myzeqari, also my colleagues Altea Stefa, Mishela Rapo, Olesia Kamberi and Çetina Llukaj. Today we are very happy because our guest is Edlira Stefa who is a business entrepreneur for the line of children mainly from 0–3 years old, offering them all the necessary products, located in Tirana. It is a pleasure to talk to you today. How are you?
Edlira: Hello! How are you? It is a pleasure to be with you today, to tell the experience of our firm. In general, but also in the lockdown period that was not a good time for everyone, including us as a small business. Also, I wanted to inform you about the difficulties and opportunities this period created by inspiring us to focus and dedicate ourselves to details, so we don’t look only at the bad side of the medal, but we look for other opportunities that this period offers.
Altea Stefa: Thank you Mrs. Edlira. We are very interested to hear your story and views because you are the first person we are talking to, who owns a retail store and we all know how badly this closure affects these types of businesses. So before we start tell us a little more about your business.
Edlira: Back then, Sogni D’oro was a family business with years of experience. The year 2009 was the year when our business was consolidated with a specific official name Sogni D’oro, so we have 12 years of experience in the Albanian market. Our beginnings in this field date back to 25 years ago. Our focus is mainly on the baby line sector, ie dealing with meeting the needs of the child from the moment he is born until the age of 3, offering all the necessary products. Our store offers a wide range of products, with about 30–40 different types of items under the name of Sogni D`oro. It is a business that offers a lot of fun for us because we deal with the baby line and are products that give pleasure to work and dedicate as much as possible that the products are of very good quality. In addition it is a business that deals with children and meeting their needs and kno is a pleasure because when it meets the needs of parents and children you feel good.
Altea Stefa: Yes, what you said is very true. Children and meeting their needs is primary for every family. With all the technological developments I think that in addition to a physical store you should also have an online one or not?
Edlira: But of course, especially in the period of the pandemic, due to the need that was from the closure, we focused on online business. Sogni D; oro does not have a website but is available on instagram and facebook since the beginning of the business. Each passing year convinces us even more about the importance of online presence as a business, especially in recent years that it has become a necessity. This was even more noticeable during the pandemic period when online business was the only opportunity for our customers to get the products they were interested in. The products we offer are not luxury products or that not every family can afford, but they are products that help the economy of every family according to the economic opportunity they have and this makes us alienate through our business in every Albanian family. I personally prefer to be physically with the client because it better explains everything, the product, the quality, what the client wants, so it is something better to sell physically but when this is not possible, we try to explain the product online for the client.
Mishela Rapo: How did you overcome this challenge, because as you mentioned online business requires dedication and is more complicated than it seems. So can you tell us how to solve this problem?
Edlira: True, this can be bypassed-but not unless you’re a techie who knows what he’s doing. We want and have tried our best to meet these requirements to clients and we have been able to explain to clients because they are usually young families, new printers and first time parents and do not know very well the needs of children, but by had a long experience and being parents ourselves we try to give young couples the opportunity to afford it but also not to buy exaggerated things that sometimes you will not need. So we try to give you a clear idea of the needs that the baby will have when it comes to life to make it easier for the baby to grow.
Olesia Kamberi: You mentioned above that the pages on social networks you have opened, let’s say since the beginning of your business, how much has this part helped you in overcoming this challenge?
Edlira: It has been a plus for us, especially recently that online business has become a necessity. We unlike them had a page set up with some potential clients. Despite this change in its management was substantial.
Çetina Llukaj: What is the focus of your store? Where do customers focus most when making purchases?
Edlira: The focus in our store is mainly on basic products, those products that are essential for children. I can also specify them by name. Clients focus mainly on basic products, ie beds, strollers, ie daily necessities for their children. A large percentage of customers focus on these products, but there are also many customers who want some plus things or do not have much knowledge. With our experience and the staff we have tried to meet these requirements and give our help as much as we can, of course.
Ledia Myzeqari: Thinking that the products you offer have a narrow target group let’s say and customers I believe they have the need and desire to see and touch the product live. How was the experience and feedback you received from your customers who were now using your online store?
Edlira: As I mentioned above, my staff and I like to work directly with the customer in the store because you have more opportunities to explain things. But during this period with the online business we mainly ask the clients what they are interested in or where they are focused or we show you many possibilities by sending you photos, videos making the choice easier for the client. During this period during the pandemic, both we and the customers remained satisfied with the online sales. We have a staff of 2–3 workers who take and assemble the product in the client’s house in order to make the product as easy to use as possible.
Mishela Rapo: Yes, I think it’s a smart and efficient way for anyone thinking of opening an online store. As we all know, the situation is still critical and many businesses continue to remain closed. Tell us more about your business currently.
Edlira: In fact, we encounter this problem every day talking to colleagues or new businesses as we are also a point that distributes products to other businesses and many of the businesses have found it impossible to continue their business due to the pandemic, but thanks to the experience we started to get used to this new situation that happened and we informed our customers about our online mood. We also did not have much experience before with the online method because we usually worked with the physical store but this period made us get used to and engage in selling products online. This has been impossible for some businesses because they did not even have the staff to distribute the products across points or to bring in specialists and workers who were in this field to help them, but we have successfully coped with this period.
Cetina Llukaj: How do you as a business manage to transport your products since the movement has been limited? Tell us with a number between 0–10 how much difficulty did this situation bring you?
Edlira: Since the beginning of the pandemic we were accustomed to this new situation which was not new only to us but to the whole world, we got the necessary information and made plans to organize by seeking online permits from the government for businesses. We have two cars that deal with the delivery of orders which have been focused mainly in the area of Tirana but also other cities during the allowed time during that period and we managed to succeed. It has not been a period like other periods, but at least we managed to keep the business.
Olesia Kamberi: What can you tell us about the competition in this period, about the stores that sell the same product as yours?
Edlira: This has become a very big concern this period. The competition has expanded a lot, especially in our line. We have been among the first in this line, while today about 7–8 stores have been opened which sell almost the same products, but we as a company have coped with this through the quality and guarantee we give to customers for our products, also and experience affects because customers know us over the years and by guaranteeing the quality of the product we have managed to be worthy competitors.
Ledia Myzeqari: As you said, experience has a very important role. You talk about the challenges and the ways you choose to overcome them in your store and of course planning in this period is difficult. But what is your opinion on the situation in the coming months, do you have a specific plan or an opinion that you want to develop and practice?
Edlira: In the coming months we want to further expand our online business. We want to hire two employees to deal only with online sales because we noticed during the pandemic period that we were not very focused on online business but we saw that it is very productive, and with the time that has come and the development that technology has undergone I say that online work will be one of the key points where we will focus more on our sales.
Mishela Rapo: It is very important to help small shops to grow their business and overcome the challenges they face. You are mentioned a lot of them. To conclude today’s interview, can you name two or three things that you and your business need help with in the current situation?
Edlira: We need help from the government during this period, but it is also important from the clients. We have to focus a lot on product quality, correctness, answer for every product and offer you every product with a guarantee. This will require customers to build trust in us. If trust is created and we will be able to have quality products, we will be competitive and we will have facilities to move forward. In terms of taxes, it would be good for the government to adopt policies to reduce taxes because many businesses are rented. Even though the businesses were closed for several months they continued to pay taxes and rent. These are policies that need to be looked at more concretely, but we are hoping that this pandemic will end as soon as possible and we will focus on sales physically, but this has taught us that online selling is also a very big favor for businesses.
Altea Stefa: Thank you very much, do you have any last sentence or advice for anyone who is watching us?
Edlira: I want to thank you who are young with initiative and wish you success. Focus and attention should be given to local products as they promote values as a business and as part of the society of this country. Our products are made in Albania, so if you buy local products our country will develop and we will move forward. Thank you and I wish you success.
About the Guest
Sogni D’oro offers a variety of products to satisfy the needs of every parent, including pushchairs, baby strollers, beds and car seats for children. With 25 years of experience in the line of products for children, it brings you the latest trends of beds and strollers leading in the local market. We offer made in Albania product, as well as the most popular brands in the world. All our products are tested and certified with the highest standards for protection and hygiene. Sogni D’oro, is located in Tirana, Albania.